The Ageless Excitement Of New Old Toys

During my childhood, I evolved through various collections of toys.

One of the first, and longest lasting, was Action Man, and one of the most endearing memories I have is being at my dad’s garage (he sold cars for large periods of my upbringing) and stumbling across a huge cardboard box full of assorted Action Man figures, clothes and vehicles under his desk.

He’d bought them from a friend whose kids had grown out of them, as a present for my upcoming birthday.

A number of elements made this box extra special.

First, just the volume of it, in one place.

I already had a fair collection of Action Man toys, but I was aware enough about the cost of things to know that each birthday or Christmas I wasn’t like to get more than a couple of new toys.

So to have here what perhaps amounted to half a dozen Christmases worth of toys in one giant box was terribly exciting.

Second, it was the diversity and hitherto unknown range of stuff I found as I rummaged through.

I was used to receiving perhaps one Action Man (the police motorcyclist I remember vividly), and learned which clothing and accessories went with it, then each time I got my collection out, I suited up a figure with an outfit and all the related extras.

Also, during this period, the autumn/winter edition of the Argos catalogue was my bible each year from late summer when it was published, to Christmas Day when I hoped desperately I might have one of the many (many) toys that I’d been drooling over the previous five months.

In 1976, for example, the Action Man fun started on page 51.

(Photography fans, check out the film and cameras from page 108 onwards!)

My careful studying of both the Argos ranges of toys, and those in my mum’s Freemans catalogue (like Argos, but purely mail order and more expensive as it was paid in weekly instalments) meant I had a good idea of what current toy ranges looked like.

From this knowledge, I could tell that this new (to me) box of mixed Action Man wasn’t cutting edge, and indeed some of the figures were more primitive than those I already owned.

The (non-gripping) hands, lack of “eagle eyes”, and less realistic hair were giveaways. Plus there was a blond action man, with a beard, that I’d never seen in a shop or catalogue in my lifetime!

This unfamiliarity with the toys – and that figures, outfits, boots, weapons and more were all jumbled up together, meant it was more mysterious and exciting than if it had been, say a complete set, like my police motorcyclist.

This fairly early memory (I’d guess I was no older than five) set a pattern for many similar occasions later in life.

Not least of all with cameras, where numerous times I’ve bought from some source or other a lucky dip style box of photography gear, partly in the hope that there was something decent and of value (to me) in it, but partly just for that rummaging about in someone else’s outgrown treasure kind of feeling I’d known decades before with the Action Man box.

The particular haul I remember best was via eBay.

I could see from the collection of rather poorly taken photographs of the equipment (how ironic) that there were a couple of cameras, three, perhaps four lenses, and a bunch of other stuff like filters, and the obligatory 2X telephoto adapter and cheap flash that most kits seemed to contain in the 70s and 80s.

What caught my eye was a lens with Zeiss on the front, and on closer inspection it also said Flektogon 35mm f/2.4.

I knew from previous research that most Zeiss lenses were worth a second look, and the M42 mount trio of the Flektogon 35mm, Pancolar 50mm and Sonnar 135mm held particular reverence to those in the know.

I couldn’t see much of the condition of the Flektogon from the pictures, but some of the other pictures suggested this was one photographer’s collection, all M42 mount, and the items there were clearer images of looked in very good condition.

As I recall, the auction started at £45, which would have put most people off for a bunch of apparently random and untested old film cameras.

But from further investigation of sold lenses, it looks liked a decent Flektogon would set you back at least £100 on its own.

So I took a gamble and put in a bid in the dying seconds, and with no opposition, I won.

That moment, until I received the rather shoddily packaged cardboard box a week later, the excitement built, as did my fear that the lens was be useless and I paid nearly £50 for a box of junk.

Fortunately, and to my delight, as I sifted through the Praktica cameras, filters, flash gear and straps, I found two lenses in great working order.

A rather ugly Praktica 80-200mm zoom – which I later tested and was very respectable indeed, vastly surpassing my expectations – and a Zeiss Tessar 50mm – decent enough but 10 a penny and I could list 20 other 50mm lenses I’d rather use.

Then there was the Flektogon, which not just fully working, but in lovely condition, and seemed hardly used.

This was over five years ago, and it became – and remains – one of my very favourite lenses I’ve used.

I went on to sell the other two lenses after testing, and gave away the other stuff, recouping some of the outlay and I think in the end the Flektogon owed me about £20.

But, bargain aside, just discovering such a gem of a lens amongst that random box of discarded photography gear was such a thrill.

And it’s this feeling still that occasionally leads me to scour eBay (and sometimes charity shops, though they have fewer cameras than ever these days it seems) in search of a job lot that might put a smile on my face and unearth a treasure or two along the way.

In short, despite my general drift towards less gear over the last few years, new (old) toys seem to have an ageless excitement.

How about you? Can you relate to the experience of rummaging through a box of old toys (or cameras or anything else) like a five year old kid at Christmas?

Please share your favourite experiences and stories with us below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

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10 thoughts on “The Ageless Excitement Of New Old Toys”

  1. Yes, many times. But not for several decades now. At this stage in my life it’s more important to target specific items needed/wanted. I haven’t seen any used things I want at decent prices for some time now. Seems like everything has gone up regardless of its worth.

    1. Yeh there’s definitely far more of that around now, especially online. Any old run of the mill film compact seems to be labelled as a classic and up for five times its true value, not to mention some models, which may be slightly better, but have massively over-hyped prices, like the Olympus Mju range. Used to be able to get a Mju zoom model (which aren’t amazing in my experience and I’d much rather have a Pentax Espio) for £5 or £10, now some are in the £100s. Insane!

      There’s also a time factor. I read an article a while back on a photography blog written by someone who’d found a camera they’d been looking for for years in a charity/thrift shop for a few dollars. He was raving about what a bargain it was, and a kind of holy grail of treasure hunting. He went on to mention how he’d been looking for years and had made hundreds of visits to such shops. Add up all the time and fuel and he’d have been far better off just paying the going rate for said camera online and got it almost immediately. So we have to consider this hidden investment of time and money versus just paying full price for something to save the time and hassle in the long run.

  2. Despite the rising prices of vintage camera gear, some owners seem to be more interested in finding a new home for some gear with someone who appreciates the quality and the history, rather than the money. I have been lucky enough to be browsing Facebook Marketplace when some of these items are posted. My favorite such buy was a large box, full of stuff wrapped in newspaper or supermarket bags. The ad had one image of a Spotmatic. I drove up to a nice house and met a pleasant gentleman who said it was his late Dad’s gear and hadn’t come out of the box in the garage for years. We chatted about my collecting enthusiasm, I paid the tiny price asked and loaded the mystery box into the car.

    Unpacking at home, there was the Spotmatic, a Pentax MX, an Olympus Trip, various Canon Sureshot models, filters, some mildewed cases, a lightmeter but apparently no lenses. There was a lot of scrunched up newspaper left at the bottom, I felt around to find a final lump, this was the ‘kit’ lens from the Spotmatic, the 55m 1.8 Takumar, my first Tak 🙂 This was the first thing to be used (after cleaning), a famous if not uncommon lens with lovely bokeh. The whole box thing of course had the joy of discovery that I remember from Christmas stockings!

    Everything needed restoration work, I haven’t invested in the batteries yet for the Canon compacts. The Spotmatic has the common sticky mirror return and needs light seals, the Trip aperture/shutter is stuck, again a well documented problem I will tackle. The MX has a corroded battery cover from leaking cells. Someone has tried to fix this with a hammer leaving the baseplate with a mass of dents. I just unscrewed the baseplate, cleaned out the leaking cells, applied new batteries and replaced the baseplate. The MX is mechanical of course but the meter now works. Lightseals also required. I already had a 50mm 1.7 M lens.

    When I started collecting vintage lenses, there were 35mm 2.4 M42 Flektagons on eBay for around £30, that seemed a lot and I didn’t appreciate the quality, I sure regret that now – but we can’t win them all 🙂

    1. Thanks Richard, sounds like a proper treasure trove!

      Strange there weren’t more lenses, especially none for the MX. I’m a big fan of Takumars and the 55/1.8 (or near identical 55/2) are lovely lenses, like you say, I’ve had probably half a dozen over the last decade in different versions.

      If we could travel back in time ten years, there would be dozens of different lenses and cameras we could buy for peanuts on eBay and now sell for ridiculously over-hyped prices.

      That said, the Flektogon is a special lenses in my eyes, and a good one is probably worth £100 in the big scheme of things. For anything less than it’s a great buy for anyone wanting a fairly fast 35mm vintage lens.

      1. Thanks Dan, I think the reason for the lack of other lenses in my ‘haul’ was that all the cameras had some kind of fault so the lenses were probably sold off years ago. The Takumar 55 1.8 was externally grubby and at first glance had fungus on the front element, but some gentle cleaning with lens cleaner cleared the muck that was on the front surface, under was decent glass. I already had a 50 M 1.7, so the MX was not left without an appropriate lens.

      2. Those two are absolute classic “standard” lenses, and equally wonderful. You don’t really need anything else for those respective bodies.

  3. I told you before about this haul a couple years ago that brought me some fine lenses, despite them having slight fungus in them. The SMC-K 50mm f/1.2 was the big prize in that purchase, though the SMC-M 100mm f/2.8 has probably gotten the most use, as it’s the perfect lens for my kids basketball games – very sharp and contrasty wide open means I can use it in AV mode and just focus and snap. The high contrast makes focusing very easy and f/2.8 is perfect (on APS-C) for sports shots – enough depth of field, yet also bright enough to get a good shutter speed.
    Early on, back when I had just started with DSLRs, I bought a Pentax A3000 with 4 lenses and all 4 ended up being great – all SMC-A lenses, but I sold 3 of them (for more than I paid for the whole lot) and kept what I consider a treasure in the Pentax lineup – the SMC-A 70-210mm f4 Macro. If you haven’t tried one, and don’t mind an outing with a large and heavy lens every now and then, it’s worth trying – it’s cheap enough and optically brilliant. It’s still my favorite lens for my kids soccer (football) and (American) football games, and any activities outdoors such as zoo visits.
    My preference for older, great gear comes from many years as a guitar player, where older worn-out guitars always have way more appeal to some of us, than anything you can buy new…

    1. Thanks Chris. Yeh I remember the haul with the 50/1.2, a very unusual lens in the K version too!

      I have looked at the M 100/2.8 from time to time. I had a Tak 105/2.8 which was pretty wonderful, like a baby 135mm, thinner than most 50mm lenses, sharp, lovely and smooth as all Takumars are, and preset aperture, which I love. Not really sure why I got rid of it and now have amongst other things a 200mm Tak I rarely use. I’d probably look at another one of these or an A series 100mm (if there is one?) rather than the M, which I find more awkward to use on a DSLR.

      I’ve not had the A 70-210mm, but the macro aspect sounds appealing. I had for a while an A series 35-105mm which was an excellent performer all round, but a) was a bazooka, massive, fat and heavy and b) I had better and faster primes at 35, 50 and 105mm (the Tak) and it was too much lens to carry about just for the 70-90mm kind of range.

      I have the F series 35-70 which I only generally use at 70mm but as it’s pretty small and light for a zoom, and auto aperture and focus of course, it gets plenty of use.

      The past history of used gear is a major appeal in itself, for me.

    1. Yeh that’s a good source, estate sales where the deceased was a camera enthusiast. If they’re looking for quick sales of lots, rather than individual items, there’s a chance of getting some good batches at a lower price than the individual items are worth combined.

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